Fans of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman — and the films that they made together — should put the new documentary Liv & Ingmar on their radar. Returning to Fårö island, to the house Bergman built on the site where they first fell in love, the still-radiant Ullmann opens up about the joy and the darkness of their headline-making love affair. And, like a late-career Bergman film, the story continues after the love affair and the breakup into a new and deeper territory: the intimacy of long friendship.
Director Dheeraj Akolkar using clips from Svensk Filmindustry’s Bergman/Ullmann films — Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Cries & Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Saraband (and others) — beautifully to illustrate the story, aptly demonstrating how autobiographical these films were for both of them.
Ullmann is a polyglot, but she does the entire interview in English, sometimes translating the letters she and Ingmar wrote to each other. These letters are clearly deeply personal, as is the coded diary that they kept on a door of the house, but the film omits interpretation, leaving them mostly mysterious.
As a viewer, I wish the filmmakers had pushed even further into the inmost thoughts and feelings of these two artists. (Maybe it is unnecessary, since it is already embedded in their films.) As a filmmaker, I wish there had been much more discussion of their working relationship and how these great works of art were made. As a fan of both Liv and Ingmar, however, I am grateful that this document exists.
The filmmakers have succeeded in making something deeply moving. When Liv says the greatest compliment she ever received was when Ingmar called her his Stradivarius… wow. Maybe its the way she says it, or maybe it’s just her blue blue eyes. Whatever it is, it’s another powerful cinematic moment born from their great collaboration.
Liv & Ingmar opened this Friday, December 13th at the Elinor Bunin Munroe theatre in New York and at the Nuart in Los Angeles. This review is based on a DVD screener.